Art seen: April 2

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at exhibitions from the National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, and Eric Schusser.


'Garden Blue', by Kim Sunhyung.
'Garden Blue', by Kim Sunhyung.
"Garden", National Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Seoul

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, a small fraction of galleries — especially major overseas ones — have created virtual tours of their displays. While the small screen cannot do true justice to the impact of artworks compared to seeing them in the flesh, these virtual tours are a great way to while away some stir-crazy time.

The use of a digital platform enables art to be displayed in a variety of ways, from attempts to create a literal art space to embedding the paintings within a written narrative and beyond. One overseas virtual gallery which uses the narrative approach is Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Their virtual tour "Garden" uses a simple catalogue-like form, presenting simple photographic images accompanied by text. The exhibition features both Korean and overseas artists.

The works represent an attempt to view the gallery space as an analogy of a garden. The display is divided into sections: "Encounter", representing a reflection of the visitor’s daily life; "Pause", a quiet space where colours are muted and the artworks reflect a calming forest space; and "Dialogue", in which viewers are confronted with individual works. The pieces are impressive works, but the online display fails somewhat to convey the power of the exhibition, due to the static, non-interactive nature of the presentation.


'Gun Salute on a Gala Day at the Rio de Janeiro Bay', detail by Joao Batista Castagneto
'Gun Salute on a Gala Day at the Rio de Janeiro Bay', detail by Joao Batista Castagneto
‘‘Art From Brazil Until 1900’’, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo

A more impressive virtual display is Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo’s overview of Brazilian art history. The exhibition is fascinating and well presented, with text annotations for individual pieces and the ability to zoom in on several works. Its one failing is the poor resolution of the paintings, resulting in close-ups in which picture details are lost.

Despite this, the exhibition is impressive, and not just for the works themselves. The themes represented find resonance with New Zealand art of the same era, in particular with the idealisation of the landscape of the newly-settled country and in the mythification of the native inhabitants as noble yet doomed savages — a theme which was no doubt reflected in the art of many countries during their colonial eras.

Moreover, the art represents a social and art history of which many New Zealanders would be unaware, revealing both the background to the modern country and a wealth of artists little known outside it. The work of Calixto, Castagneto, Almeida jun, and others is strong enough to deserve a wider audience. This, perhaps, is a major joy of the virtual gallery: yes, it is possible to view the creme de la creme at the Louvre, Uffizi, and Guggenheim, but discovering little-known gems is at least as worthwhile.


'Early Morning Mist #2, Lake Tekapo', by Eric Schusser.
'Early Morning Mist #2, Lake Tekapo', by Eric Schusser.
"The Colour of Anxiety", Eric Schusser

A small number of New Zealand galleries have also improved their web presence. One Otago art space which has created a virtual gallery experience is Eade Gallery in Clyde. While it would be unfair to compare their virtual experience with that of a major gallery in Paris or New York, this virtual exhibition definitely holds its own. It is effectively presented as a true virtual gallery space, and the photographic work by Eric Schusser is well worth a look.

Schusser’s photographic series has been inspired by the apocalyptic feeling engendered by seeing the drifting smoke of the Australian bushfires crossing Otago at the beginning of the year. This sense of impending doom (which has coincidentally been heightened by our current predicament of isolation) led the artist to create a series of empty monochrome landscapes, in which the pristine whites have been replaced by an eerie peach tone. This has been largely achieved by Schusser’s use of the antiquated wet collodion process in the creation of his prints. Two stunning panoramic black-and-white vistas and a handful of more experimental pieces round out the exhibition. Schusser’s work is clear, bold, and attractive, and stands up well to his premise of using the images as an ominous narrative.


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